Pneu Wines was founded by Scott Lewis (owner of V Wine Cellar in Yountville) and his friends Gary and Cheryl Van Brunt. Born in Limerick Ireland, Scott followed his chef and hotelier father’s footsteps; Scott has worked at some of the finest hotels in London in Food and Beverage Management including at the Dorcester and Grosvenor. In 1990 he was one of a select few chosen in the United States annual Green Card lottery for residency. Moving to the USA he worked at several top properties in both Texas and Arizona before a lunch reservation at the French Laundry in Yountville brought him to the Napa Valley. He stayed, ultimately becoming the Director of Food and Beverage at the Villagio Inn and Spa.
In 2006 Scott opened V Wine Cellar in the V Marketplace (separated only by a parking lot from Villagio) and has since developed the store, inventory and brand into one of the premier wine shops in all of the Napa Valley. A year later he began Pneu Wines. During his time at the Arizona Biltmore he met Gary Van Brunt (now former CEO of Discount Tire). Gary told Scott that if he ever wanted to make wine he would be willing to partner with him. That became a reality in 2007 when Scott located a premium vineyard source in Anderson Valley (to the north of Napa in Mendocino County).
As fortune would have it, Scott’s neighbor at the time was well respected winemaker Tom Farella. Tom has made every vintage of Pneu Wines.
As a wine store owner Scott is exposed to a diversity of wines from not only the Napa Valley but also from around the world (the store has a good International selection). However, one of Scott’s favorite varietals is Pinot Noir having been hooked by a 1971 Larouche Pinot Noir that his father served him. He enjoys the fact that most Pinot’s are so versatile; they can be consumed by themselves and or pair with a wide range of food. Incidentally he keeps an inventory of some of the world’s best Pinot Noir’s in his own store.
The name Pneu is pronounced “Pen new” and has several meanings in French: as a noun it means tire and as an adjective it means to breathe. The name ties in nicely with Gary’s background at Discount Tire. While it can be challenging to incorporate something as mundane as a tire into an elegant wine label -they have done a good job with this on the label for their Pinot Noir, matching both the symmetry of a tire with that of an oak barrel.
Interestingly enough, they found a home for their 2008 vintage in Asia. This year was known for smoke taint from forest fires affecting vineyards in and around Anderson Valley. Not wanting to filter for this – they chose to mitigate some of the taint by aging this vintage longer and using neutral oak. With an ingenious decision, they turned to select parts of Asia to market this wine. They found an appeal for it there – especially among Scotch drinkers who enjoyed the smokiness. They continue to sell a significant amount of their production to the Asian markets each year.
The last vintage of the Pinot Noir from the Anderson Valley vineyard was 2012. For subsequent vintages, Tom approached Scott about sourcing Pinot Noir from the Haynes Vineyard (a historic vineyard under the same family ownership since 1885, first planted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in 1966 with viticultural advice from two Napa pioneers, André Tchelistcheff and Louis M. Martini). Tom was already familiar with this vineyard – as it is also in Coombsville not far from his own property.
In Napa, Carneros gets all the accolades for Pinot Noir (based on growing in one of the cooler parts of the county), but more Pinot Noir grown in the cooler micro-climates of Coombsville would not be a bad thing. The 2013 shows bright aromatics, pretty fruit including raspberry complemented by various spices, violets, dried rose petal along with a cedar note (more in the background). They have always used 50% new French Oak for aging each vintage. On the palate this wine is like satin – sitting oh so delicately with appealing flavors of strawberry, red cherry, ripe raspberry and a lingering spice note and mocha. The finish shows decent length for a wine of this varietal. This is a delicate and elegant wine focusing on the pretty fruit characteristics shown from this varietal – is well balanced.
Pneu has made a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Farella Vineyard since 2007. This is a highly sought after vineyard in Coombsville with a number of prominent Napa producers sourcing fruit here. Pneu Cellars sources from the same part of the vineyard each year – a very rocky area which they informally refer to as ‘the rockpile’.
Both Scott and Tom prefer to age their Cabernet Sauvignon before releasing it to the consumer. Depending on the vintage they keep it up to 36 months in oak and then another two years in bottle before it’s release. As a result, this wine is always a few years behind most winery’s current releases. The 2009 was current release at the time of our tasting – nearly 7 years since harvest. This wine shows dark, lively and brooding aromatics framed with tinges of baking spices including sweet vanilla, a toffee note and hints of toasted cedar. There are flavors of dark blackberry, blueberry and plum notes.The mid palate has a nice density of fruit with integrated, yet noticeable somewhat earthy tannins anchoring a long salivating finish. For the price, this wine over delivers.
Production is small for both wines – usually in the range of 125 cases per wine. Much of these wines are distributed in select parts of Asia including Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan. Those who want to order can do so through the V Wine Cellar website or calling the store directly. Visit: www.vwinecellar.com